COVID-19 · digital tools · remote learning

A Very Short List of Distance Learning Ideas

_Technology is just a tool..._

At the time this post is published, we teachers and the rest of the globe find ourselves amidst a global pandemic, COVID-19.  Schools, businesses, cities, even entire countries, have been, and continue to be, shuttered in an effort to mitigate the effects of an unprecedented world health crisis.  As we know, one of the consequences of our national effort to contain the spread of this virus is to entertain ideas for distance (remote) learning.  And while this idea may hold great promise, it certainly does not provide any guarantees.  If schools remain closed for long periods of time, and it looks like many will, what will the effects be on our children’s academic growth?  Will distance learning provide a mitigating tool that lessens the effect of losing significant amounts of in-person teaching?  If schools are closed, what type of at-home learning experiences are best for kids? These, as well as dozens of other questions, may remain unanswerable for the time being.

As Stacey wrote recently, Two Writing Teachers plans to continue working to support our community of teachers, coaches, administrators, and readers with topical posts on writing workshop and/or best practices in writing instruction.  But please know: we will be navigating the uncertainty alongside you! We are not experts and do not claim to hold the answer for our readers.  Nor do we stand necessarily uniform in our professional opinions regarding remote learning.  We are well aware of the costs that excessive screen usage can enact upon families. I am reminded of Mary Anne Wolf’s latest book, Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital Age.   Pointing out some of the negative effects of the current global consumption of screen time, Wolfe writes (2018),

“There are unseen costs for every age.  By a calculus we largely neglect, the more constant the digital stimulation, the more prevalent the boredom and ennui expressed by even very young children when we take the devices away. Further, the more the devices are used, the more dependent the family becomes on longer periods of access to digital sources of entertainment, information, and distraction by all its members.  Hyperattention, continuous partial attention, and what the psychiatrist Edward Hallowell calls environmentally induced attentional ‘deficits’ pertain to us all” (p. 71).

These questions I pose above have me thinking about my one little word for 2020: Balance.  How can we strike a balance, a balance between device-based distance learning support and tried-and-true physical experiences in a way that supports our writers in some positive ways?  While I am aware many wonderful and generous educators and authors have already compiled and curated extensive lists (thank you to them!), allow me to share just a few that you may (or may not) find helpful in your efforts to guide and support students and parents at home.  This list in no way indicates personal usage or even recommendations. However, I can assure you they come from trusted sources and therefore deserve our consideration:

Digital Resources and Ideas:

  • Kate Messner – Former teacher and author of more than 35 books for kids, Kate Messner has curated a wonderful compilation of authors and artists reading aloud their original works.  In Kate’s own words: This is a library of resources for kids, families, teachers, and librarians to make sure that reading & learning can happen anywhere this spring.”

Since in any writing workshop, it is important we offer a small collection of high quality mentor texts for our writers, this site may provide support in that regard.  Click here to see what Kate has put together: Read, Wonder, and Learn! Favorite Authors & Illustrators Share Resources for Learning Anywhere – Spring 2020

  • Writing Camp with Hoppy and Ranger- Teacher and writer Tammy Mulligan has generously pledged to support writers at home with an ongoing virtual writing camp.  Tammy’s lessons are engaging and intended for writers grades 1-4. She has linked a Padlet on which she posts her own writing and allows students to do the same (should they wish to do so – it is completely student-safe).  Students that post writing can even receive feedback from her! Check it out at:

  • Angela Stockman Writing Lessons for Middle School – On her webpage, author and teacher Angela Stockman writes,  “This 8 lesson course is designed for middle school writers. It includes opportunities to engage in research, gather facts, and compose a personal narrative.” Find her lessons here:
  • Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s Notebooking Resource – Keeping a writer’s notebook and making it part of our daily writing lives remains an essential structure to growing as writers.  Each day around 1 p.m. EST (for the foreseeable future), Amy plans to post a short talk that presents an idea around notebooking. Find her site here:  Sharing Our Notebooks
  • Melanie Meehan’s Writing Workshop Resources – Author, teacher, and Two Writing Teachers co-author Melanie Meehan has generously collected, curated, and posted an impressive array of Writing Units of Study resources for upper grade writers.  Melanie’s collection includes both videos and charts. Find this treasure trove of resources here:

  • Author Jarrett Krosoczka’s Free Webcast: For those writers who aspire to create their own graphic novels or comics, they can find a wonderful lesson posted each weekday at 2:00 on Jarrett Krosoczka’s Youtube channel. Drawing tutorials will be posted for at least a couple of weeks.  Check out this resource here: Jarrett J. Krosoczka—author & illustrator.

Non-digital resources:

  • Printable graphic novel/comic templates:  From author Jarrett Lerner, writers can create conversations for characters, comic book drawings, silly illustrations, etc. on a variety of click and print images or templates.  Find those resources here:
  • Journals: Prep some journals and write alongside kids!  This idea is fairly simple and may be appropriate to suggest to caregivers who are capable of supporting writers in this way. This time is historic, and as Clare Landrigan reminded us in her slice of life post, historians are now encouraging journaling, as these accounts will someday become primary sources for this time period.
  • Greenbelt Writing: Encourage writers to do that “greenbelt” writing students never have time to do! Not familiar with greenbelt writing?  As Stacey wrote in her review of Ralph Fletcher’s Joy Write back in April of 2017, 

“Greenbelt writing is raw, unmanicured, and uncurated. In other words, it’s the kind of informal, low-stakes writing kids are comfortable composing, but rarely get the chance to do in many writing workshops. Ralph wants kids to get back to powerful writing that is personal, passionate, joyful, whimsical, playful, infused with choice, humor, and voice, and reflective of the quirkiness of childhood. The whole idea behind greenbelt writing is to infuse energy into students; to spark, engage, and help kids gain their stride as writers.”

  • Support Creativity: Provide paper and markers and give writers a chance to create.  Keep it simple!
  • Thank you cards: Encourage and support writers in composing a daily thank you card to be written and mailed to someone who is helping during this crisis. 
  • Screenplays:  Suggest writers experiment with composing their own screenplays, beginning with storyboarding.  One article perhaps worth checking out is here.

If you have not had an opportunity to read Meghan Hargrave’s recent post entitled, “Rethinking Materials, Routines, and Collaboration: What Does Independence and Interdependence Look Like From Home?”, I would encourage you to read it here.  As Meghan so starkly writes, “The students who rely on you each day, the ones who are constantly asking questions, looking for positive affirmations, and seeking the scaffolds you provide, are now left to their own devices.”

I hope today’s post provides perhaps some support to you, as you attempt to navigate this unprecedented time in history.  Please leave other writing resources you recommend in the comments section below.  After all, we are in this together.

18 thoughts on “A Very Short List of Distance Learning Ideas

  1. These collections are really wonderful. I appreciate this collection and have found myself wondering how I can help our students and parents without overwhelming them. Your writing today has given me some direction and a first step. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. WARNING: This is packed with so many great ideas and links that I just spent TWO hours reading. AND, I didn’t even click on every link.
    There are some really awesome resources here people. I wonder why we don’t share and use these when we are not going through a crisis. Well, maybe some of you do. Thank you to Lanny Ball and to all of the writers mentioned and linked in this article.

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  3. Wonderful curation of resources, Lanny. I’ve been thinking about Marianne Wolf’s book all week given the closing of schools and the push to online learning. Not only am I concerned about the unintended consequences of increased screen time, but the equity disparity among those w/ and without access to technology may widen the achievement gap as dependence on elearning increases. Yesterday I learned Philadelphia schools are not developing online curriculum because of the equity gap.

    In terms of resources, Mo Willems has doodle tutorials that I plan to try myself. We all need more art right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much…with all of the digital resources coming at me from every angle, the wealth of materials were starting to overwhelm me. While I don’t know you, I trusted that your resources would be in line with my pedagogy and educational philosophy and they didn’t disappoint! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.

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  5. This is a wonderful resource, Lanny! Many of them were new to me and it’s great to have a collection of links in one place. Thank you for sharing and to all those who are working so hard to create these resources.

    Liked by 1 person

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